Interview with Melissa Wolfe of Sepsiss
Did coming from a family of musicians and performers help shape your interest in playing in bands and becoming an alt model? How early did you start and how much support did you receive?
Since I grew up surrounded by musicians I have always had a love for music. My father is a guitar player, so as a child I had the chance to watch him play in his own band. This developed into an interest to seek out a band of my own as I got older (I was about seventeen years old when I formed Sepsiss with William Savant). My mother used to be a dancer and performer as well, but of course with age came other health issues and complications. She had to put her dancing career aside, but she has always seen me as her shining star. In a way, I think that she lives her dreams through me. My family is extremely supportive of everything that I do (including my modeling), and for that I could never thank them enough.
What is your definition of alternative modeling, compared to mainstream modeling?
Alternative modeling is when a model does not conform to mainstream ideas of beauty. You often see them using their own styles and subcultures such as tattoos, goth, and fetishism. They may be pierced, have Mohawks/Dreadlocks, or their hair is dyed an unnatural color. This type of modeling can be clothed or unclothed.
What band was your father in and how often did you see them? Does this band have shows on audio, video or streaming?
My father was in a band they called "Baker Road" (they named it after the street we were living on at the time). I never had the opportunity to see them play live, because I was just too young back then. However, I did get to see them practice all the time in our basement. I guess I never really cared how loud it was, I just wanted to be down there with my family and the music. They did make a CD, which I still have today... but none of their songs ever made it to a digital copy, since this was before the "digital age", so to speak. So you won't find it online, unfortunately. They made some amazing rock n' roll and they did manage to make one music video before the band broke up.
How long was Baker Road active before they disbanded? Do you still listen to their releases?
Baker Road was active from 1994 until 1999. They had disbanded because the singer got addicted to drugs and he was ultimately fired by my father. They tried to go on without the singer for a while, but it didn't seem to take. I do listen to their CD now and again for the memories, I really do enjoy the music. I feel like it could've gone somewhere for sure. After doing some digging, I realized Baker Road did make a few promotional videos with their songs "Back Off Me" and "Loan Me Some Time" that were aired on public television at that time through a local station in Amesbury, MA. It was a station similar to the "local licks" we have today on the radio, but I can't recall the name... and it did air from time to time for a couple of years on local Comcast Television. You can listen to "Back Off Me" here and you can listen to "Loan Me Some Time" here.
What about the dance and performance art your mother was involved in generated your interest in modeling?
My mother was a modern dance instructor and also an exotic dancer/performer. She had an agent that booked her around the country as the headliner and she's had her face on billboards in Florida. Her beauty and confidence in herself, as well as her confidence in me, allowed me to push forward with my own dreams.
What dance styles did your mother teach? Did she receive mainstream attention in television and magazines?
My mother instructed dance at Lannie's Dance Studio in Daytona Beach, Florida. They were part of Florida State Ballet Company. She taught what they called "modern jazz" or "modern dance" which is similar to hip-hop today with a ballet background. As far as exotic dancing, she was featured a couple of times in a magazine called "Easy Rider" back in the late 70's. During that era she was the headliner for TC Enterprises (her booking agent) which sent her all over the country to perform. She went by the name "Raven Blue."
Were you inspired by any alt models or other sources when you began alternative modeling?
When I first started my alternative modeling, I took inspiration mainly from other artists (Arch Enemy, In This Moment, Evanescence, etc) and comic books (Wonder Woman, Gene from X-Men, Harley Quinn, Catwoman, etc). I also look up to models such as Bella French, Lana Rain, Babs, Lexi Belle, Danica Logan, and a handful of others from mild to wild.
How do you reflect your attraction to those comic book characters?
When it comes to my modeling, I do a lot of fetish themes and cosplay. So it didn't take me long to figure out I could play stuff like that off very well. I really enjoy wearing costumes, leather, and lace much like those superheroines. I take a lot of it into account from the way they hold themselves right down to their hair and makeup. The bold flashy colors, glitter, and designs are a must.
In what ways did those alt models inspire you to seek your own vision?
The alternative models I mentioned earlier inspired me to look further into fetish and fashion. I really liked the way some would show off their feet, the nail-polish, and even the way some would re-enact a character during a cosplay. I've seen them really bring those characters to life with the costumes they chose and how they would dive deep into that character's personality. The makeup is also very important as sometimes a character's makeup really pinpoints who they are to the audience. Seeing all of this just makes me want to play with my own toes and throw on an outfit to become something or someone else for a day.
Do you notice mainstream models taking ideas from alt models and passing them off as their own? What examples have you recently seen of this, or of alt models being overlooked? How detrimental is it to alt modeling?
Mainstream models often do just that. I feel that alternative models often get by-passed or looked over just for the fact that they are a little different or in some cases too explicit.
I have seen plenty of mainstream icons model alternative concepts, such as Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, and Rihanna. They have all experimented with dyeing their hair in crazy colors, bondage themes, cosplay and furries. One of their favorite hair products being Manic Panic which has become almost a necessity in fashion for people who experiment with dyes at home. This used to be an alt model thing, but now it's becoming more of the "norm" to have wild colors in your hair. Heavy metal culture has always seemed to embrace adult sub-culture fashion, but has only become popular more recently with mainstream entertainment and modeling. The transgender, lesbian and gay community has also helped make erotic modeling and fashion more acceptable.
Growing up I felt a lot of alt models were overlooked for things such as tattoos and piercings. Though these things are becoming progressively more popular, many still feel this look is "unprofessional" and it can be hard to land a photo-shoot unless it is alt-specific. It would be easy to remedy this problem simply by people being more accepting of this.
In your view, are alt models copied because the mainstream is running out of creative ideas?
For some presentations, I'm sure they're exploiting a lack of variety, introducing ideas and styles that appear to be taking risks. The mainstream drops the ball on authenticity, but trends come and go. Call me neutral.
Do you think tattoos and piercings are more accepted than they were in the 90s and 2000s?
I believe tattoos and piercings are more accepted then they used to be. However, there are still some folks remaining out there that are not very accepting of it. Unfortunately it is still difficult for an average person to get a job if they have skin art, unless they cover it up with long sleeves and turtle necks.
What modeling projects are you planning for the immediate future?
I hope to engage in new networking, partnerships, and projects beyond the keyboard. Maybe some brand partnerships and sponsors. I would love to grow in goth fashion and alternative brand awareness. I think this year we will do an adult picture book or calendar.
Was Sepsiss the first band you worked in or were there others beforehand?
I was in many "bands" before Sepsiss that could never so much as finish writing a song, never-mind make it to the stage. I would consider them to be more like "jam bands" rather than something professional. We were supposed to get creative and that just never happened. Nobody ever gave me the time to grow and learn. They just expected me to be something amazing immediately. But with Sepsiss, I had that time, we did create, we even got signed and we became that band I've always dreamed of. I would say Sepsiss is my first real professional band.
Were there any “jam bands” you would have liked to see become more professional? Do you have any “garage recordings” from those bands?
The jam bands I was involved with never grew to the point where they could write any material, so unfortunately I do not have any garage recordings I can share.
Tell the readers how you met William Savant, decided to form a band with him, sought other musicians to work with and decided to name the band Sepsiss.
I met William Savant at the age of seventeen down in a creaky basement in Manchester, NH (after responding to his Craigslist ad). We were both looking to start up a project and I was showing up for a tryout. There was another girl (Ashley) that was supposed to try out that day, but she never came through. I landed the position for lead singer that day. And of course, William could play a mean guitar... so we decided to team up and make some killer music together. We've been through about twenty nine-plus band members since we started (and I’m not kidding about the numbers). But after a lot of hard work and dedication, I believe we finally have the right line-up for what we're about to do.
We named the band "Sepsiss" because it is unique and it's a word of its own. Unlike the disease, "sepsis," (spelled with one "s" at the end) which is based on a blood-born infection. We are Google searchable and it's easy to find. It's not like some other band names out there that are super long or too hard to read or say. It just kind of rolls off the tongue.
What did Sepsiss set out to do musically, and what fanbase did you expect to appeal to?
Our goal has always been to take over the world right from the start. We weren't very good when we first started out, but we've always had the dream and Sepsiss has grown into a complete monster since then. At first we imagined we would get a lot of hardcore and heavy metal fans moshing to our sound, but it's actually become so much more then that since the early days. Now we get fans from all over, including but not limited to hip-hop, r&b, country, and even pop fans. They all came together and there's a place for everyone in our music.
Who were the most inspirational bands for you and Savant when Sepsiss formed?
The bands that inspired us the most when Sepsiss started were Asking Alexandria, Avenged Sevenfold, Evanescence, Axxis, Halestorm, Metallica, Motley Crue, Dragonforce, Epica, Pantera, and so many more.
Why were there so many changes in lineup? How close is your present lineup to the vision you and Savant had?
The band went through so many members that just couldn't hack it. We've been through guitar players, bassists, keyboard players, and most of all... drummers. They've either quit on us, been fired, or simply couldn't keep up with the kind of work ethic this band requires. Our current lineup, however, is everything we've always wanted it to be. We've got all the right personalities and most of all we've got the skill-sets for the job.
Who is working with you in the band now? Were they previously in other bands? If so, how does their experience help?
Our current line up are pretty solid musicians. Cam and Johnny (guitar and bass) come from traditional metal and rock backgrounds, both having other projects before this one. Mr. Goodbarz (Tim) is our keyboard player. Both he and William come from urban music and underground hip hop production. Most of our compositions’ blue prints are generated by William, being the oldest has a lot of theory education.
What makes Sepsiss’ influences unique to extreme metal? In what ways does the music written by your current lineup differ from that of past lineups?
I believe that modern metal tends to lean in on heavy and harsher vocals. We know there is an amazing place for it in the mix. Songs these days tend to be dominated by one or two song elements. For us, there tends to be longer relationships between song parts, notes, and syncopation. The goal for us was to keep things competitively musical without confusing listeners or lots of yelling. We wanted screams to be purposeful and bring attention back to the lyrics and writing. We work like a revolving door of sonic possibilities, passing the baton during performances without having abrupt distractions or losing connection to the piece. I am a melodic vocalist, and my guitar players often make smart choices creating an environment with musical opportunity.
Line-up has always been a key factor. Our staff and band members developed our own language early on, and it was important that everyone understood it. The music is strict and the dance is delicate. Played poorly, or lack of practice and discipline, can be devastating with this sort of music.
Did your expansion of musical boundaries progress naturally? Should musicians force themselves to “branch out” or simply play what they feel and take it from there?
I would say that it was natural and certainly over a length of time. You should never have to force your music. If it's working for you and your fans like it (and you like it) then just play what feels right. You also have to live a little to write, and we had a lot of living to do before we felt comfortable with our sonic fingerprint. In heavy metal we expect to hear bands expressing darkness, anger, violence and frustration. A handful of acts even dig into politics and religion has been a popular topic in metal from the beginning. Our version of heavy metal had to say something different. We didn't design our sound trying to win over existing metal fans. We designed our sound to create NEW fans of heavy metal, period. High energy, content-rich, melodic, and aggressive. Aggressive doesn't mean anger or hatred. We wanted to be a band that could put the sex back into heavy music or pull you into a captivating story. No ages, no colors, no politics, no violence, just the people's metal. If you can't dance to it, it isn't Sepsiss.
How much material has Sepsiss released altogether? Did you start out producing your releases independently, then move on to working with professionals? Do you prefer professional studios or your own equipment?
Sepsiss started out independent, releasing our EP "Badd Blood" in April of 2019. Grammy-nominated. We have since then won the New England Music Awards for best Heavy Metal/Hard Rock act of the year for 2019. Now, recently signing with Pavement Entertainment, we plan to release our first full-length album "Almost 11" through them this August 21st, 2020. I do enjoy the calm and comfort of working from home, but there is nothing like the feel and quality of a professional studio environment. Something about being there just puts your mind where it really needs to be.
Are copies of “Badd Blood” still available, or can it be streamed on the internet?
Unfortunately "Badd Blood" is completely sold out, since we only made those CD's when we were still independent. So there are limited copies out there. I guess you can call it a collector's item now, lol. However, you can download a small demo version of the CD (which has 4 songs on it) digitally from our store while you're waiting for "Almost 11" to be released. You can find it at our site.
What do your lyrics cover, and in what ways do they complement your music?
Our lyrics cover everything from love and lust, to sci-fi/fantasy, the apocalypse, and even murder. I would say the lyrics matches the music perfectly and it really helps to bring out the emotion behind the song. While I might pick a topic with William, we approach each track transparent after a theme. Without disconnection, we build a deeper relationship with each paragraph. If you didn't already feel something before, you'll certainly start to feel once you've connected with the words. The music alone is enough to make your heart skip a beat with the screaming cries and sweeping melodies from the guitars, the pulsing dance of the drums and bass, and the atmospheric whisper of the keyboard.
Discuss some of the topics that you and William choose. How are the lyrics channeled to get your listeners to feel them?
Because we write about everything and nothing, we have quite a variety of topics ranging from aliens to relationships and multi-sensory consciousness. No agendas or politics. Just human music to use your imagination and provoke personal inventory.
Explain how your music is geared toward fueling the imagination? How much effort do you put into your lyrics toward this purpose?
Because of transparency and concept phrasing, we focused choosing a lot of neutral and interpretive lyrics. For some acts, they don’t feel satisfied unless they write the most confusing technical or aggressive piece. We feel this is a big disconnect for a hand full of people. This makes it difficult for people relate with intelligently. While they might enjoy some noise they usual don’t relate to it or able to interpret it. It’s a balanced diet of the unpredictability predictable to quote Cam.
Are you working with Glen Robison to engineer “Almost 11”? How much more work is needed before it’s completed?
Glen Robinson worked on engineering “Badd Blood”. Coming back to the table for “Almost 11” after a rather successful four song indie release, we quickly set out to improve released tracks and added four unpublished and three more brand new songs. A lot of our music is popular in the region so it was important to track new songs regardless. Glen is definitely the seventh member of the band. Our record label has the album right now. It is complete.
How did you find Glen Robinson to engineer your releases? How would you describe his work for you?
We had some really rough demos floating around the internet gathering feedback. We’re not exactly sure how Glen found us. But one day, a strange email popped up with his name on it. William was familiar with Queensryche, Annihilator and Gwar. William wrote it off as a scam, so we ignored the message. Weeks later, we did some research and were pleasantly surprised that indeed it was the real Glen Robinson. Glen became a massive influence in re calibration, and tweaked some presentation ideas to make the presentation a bit sturdier. Since then, he truly is the 7th member of the band.
Does Sepsiss have their own record label, or have you been signed to the same label from the beginning?
We have a small production company and a huge stage staff. We are signed to pavement entertainment for this next album. This is our first world published collection.
Are you considering drawing from less mainstream friendly genres for your formula?
I'm going to be upfront. We love a very wide spectrum of metal styles... tried, true, and traditional. Thrash or Death. Symphonic or Metal-core. In terms of modern metal, we hear lots of truly amazing bands that simply get lost because they only seem to appeal to certain groups of fans. Singing in modern metal, I have noticed a slight difference in the frequency of the listener. William and I knew this, and we wanted to create a kind of heavy metal that a much wider variety of people could learn. That explains why we have such a time chamber of sounds and presentations. We want our heavy metal to be for everyone. The people's metal.
Would you look for inspiration from doom, black, ambient, death or folk metal?
We have a tremendous amount of love and respect for many shapes and versions of heavy metal. We get asked all the time about me screaming or more death style breakdowns. Sepsiss is a growing band and we have much more living and learning before we rule out anything that can help improve or add to our recipe. Finding a great balance between preforming solid sets and musical ability will always be a priority for us. We released a folk song on Facebook called “No Strings Attached” it just reached 200k over there so who knows. Maybe acoustic versions of the music. We’re so new to the ears, practicing a lot and studying the art. I would expect our next album will be very advanced. There are three songs in production as we speak. The evolution is there already. It’s going to get Interesting.
What styles of folk music did you base “No Strings Attached” on while writing it?
Campfire guitars and haunting lyrics remind me of country and blues. With Williams approach using arpeggios to accompany Tim’s piano parts modernize it for me but I believe William when with a country feel.
Speaking of fry screaming, do you have any previous experience? How much practice would you need to do with your vocal cords so you can sustain your fry screaming?
I have tried half-heartedly for fun before. Truly it would be a distraction for me because I have so much more to learn and grow as a singer. Maybe one day when my current goals as a vocalist have reached a place for me. I love my position and without ruling anything out, it will be quite a while before I consider heavier aggressive vocals.
When do you plan to release “Almost 11” and how do you plan to promote it once it’s out?
Almost 11 is coming out via Pavement entertainment August 21 this year. Promotion is so different now. It’s all about the prerelease and what leads up to an actual release. We have a hand full of surprises, games, give always, band interaction and an amazing pr team and strategy. Most of our staff are in house and we create content on the fly. Sepsiss is a military mechanism. We hit the ground hard and fast. Keeping a high energy discipline and quality content. This whole year will be full of surprises even after the release.
What do you and the band hope to accomplish with Sepsiss, musically and otherwise?
Our goals as a metal band are to make heavy music beyond the predictable. Let go of trendy and safe ideas in metal music. Sepsiss isn’t a violent form of rock music. There’s no hate fueled content or segregated ideas. No politics or dominated by heavy vocals or over processing. We use human voices and keep our mistakes when they fit. We have heard so many band that fail to create what you hear on the albums. For us that was a massive goal, staying with the integrity of performable songs, sonically and physically.